Plans for foreign force ignite massive protest
By Mohamed Sheikh Nor, AP Writer | September 6, 2006
MOGADISHU, Somalia “” Thousands of people massed in the capital yesterday vowing to fight any foreign peacekeepers sent to the embattled nation, while a coalition of nations from eastern Africa approved an ambitious plan to deploy troops in Somalia by early next month.
It was the latest protest organized by an Islamic militia that has seized control of Mogadishu and much of the rest of southern Somalia. The militants oppose foreign interference, while the country’s virtually powerless official government has appealed for outside help.
In Nairobi, Kenya, authorities from seven African countries endorsed a plan to send about 3,500 Ugandan and Sudanese soldiers to Somalia by early October. But the agreement by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development is unlikely to become reality anytime soon.
The deal faces two major obstacles: The U.N. must lift a 10-year arms embargo on Somalia to allow peacekeepers to enter the country, and the African Union must release funds to back the mission, expected to cost $34 million a month.
Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, a leader in Somalia’s Islamic militia, called the meeting “a plot against our country.”
The demonstration came just a day after negotiators from the government and the Islamic group signed an agreement to form a unified national army. The agreement did not specify when the plan would take effect; talks were expected to resume Oct. 30.
Somalia has not had an effective central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another, pulling the country into anarchy.
The current government was established two years ago with the support of the United Nations, but it has failed to assert any power outside its base in Baidoa, which is 150 miles from Mogadishu.
Clerics and militiamen set up a network of Islamic courts in a bid to restore order by enforcing Islamic law, which has sparked fears of an emerging Talibanstyle regime.
Since sweeping over much of southern Somalia, including the capital, in June, the Islamic group has brought a semblance of order after years of anarchy.